When Sofia was 1, she wasn’t speaking. But being raised in a multilingual household, her parents thought maybe she was just a late talker or hearing too many different languages. But when Sofia started being picky with her food and becoming less social, they began seeking answers, turning to Arizona’s Early Intervention Program.
By the time Sofia was about to turn 3, she was still a very picky eater, less social and wasn’t speaking. Early Intervention, as well as Sofia’s preschool, suggested that the family seek out an autism diagnosis, and were referred by a teacher at the preschool who was familiar with SARRC.
Sofia was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in April 2013, two months before her third birthday. Her parents, Olfa and Samir, reached out to SARRC where they learned about SARRC’s Community School.
“The Community School is a preschool program for students with and without autism,” explains Christine Gomez, M.Ed., BCBA, senior clinical supervisor at SARRC. “For students who have a diagnosis of autism, the Community School provides an intensive, evidence-based treatment model for children 18 months through 5 years. For our non-treatment students, we offer a language-rich, play-based preschool program.”
“I was really impressed with it,” Olfa says. “The school had a smaller ratio of kids to teachers, and they were using ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) at the same time. Sofia was doing okay at her school, but she really needed ABA at school, and the fact that they were mixing kids on the spectrum with neurotypical kids was great. And, there she would be getting professional help.”
Sofia was able to join the Community School for her pre-K year.
“We saw so many changes that year,” Olfa shares. “We saw her blossom. We knew that she was in good hands with the experts. We saw huge progress and we were really hopeful for the first time. It took a lot of stress out of us because we knew we were on the right track.”
Not only did Sofia learn new words and begin speaking, but through the program, her social engagements increased and she became friends with others.
“In other schools, she was always on one side of the classroom, even though she would have a friend or two that she would follow,” Olfa shares. “Here, we saw her interact with others. We saw her get out of her world where she was by herself and be part of a community. They had an emphasis on social skills. And for food — she would sit at the table and try things. That was the first time. She did things she had never done before. They gave her the tools she needed.”
“The Community School classroom model is designed to resemble a typical preschool experience, with a few key enhancements. Each classroom is supervised by a licensed behavior analyst and all therapists are registered behavior technicians with training in adapting their interactions to fit the unique needs of each student,” Gomez explains. “The program’s model not only benefits students with autism—neurotypical students receive opportunities for accelerated growth within highly individualized learning plans.”
Another benefit: Students are also provided with opportunities on how to demonstrate acceptance and compassion for the different types of learning and communication styles presented within the classroom.
For Sofia, the experience was, her parents say, “life-changing.”
Today, Sofia is mainstreamed in a third-grade classroom and able to both adapt to situations and integrate in ways her parents had only hoped, which they credit to both SARRC’s help and Sofia’s hard work.
“My biggest wish would be to see schools like the Community School everywhere,” Olfa says. “That should be the model. It was life-changing for us on so many levels. Sofia had all the attention she deserved and needed at the time.”
SARRC Community School Now Enrolling!
SARRC’s Community School features a blended classroom model that actively develops young minds through high-quality early childhood education.
Children 18 months to 5 years enrolled in the Community School receive the benefits of highly trained classroom therapists with a 4:1 student-to-teacher ratio in a play-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum aligned with state education standards in a language-enriched environment structured to specifically improve meaningful engagement and social communication.
We have campuses in Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale! Learn more at autismcenter.org/CommunitySchool or contact our Family Resource Team at 602.606.9806.